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What Medical Marijuana Means for Pharma Companies

Posted by | Fuld & Company

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Medical Marijuana, A Force to Be Reckoned With?

A key player has emerged in the market that poses both threats to and opportunities for current pharmaceutical solutions, medical marijuana. Over the past year, given the legislation expanding its use, medical marijuana has consistently been in the spotlight across the U.S., but what do these legislative changes mean for the pharmaceutical industry? Pharmaceutical companies must consider the clinical, financial, and social benefits of medical marijuana in order to craft effective strategies.

How Will Cannabis Impact the Pharmaceutical Industry?

The medical marijuana industry is estimated to reach $55.8 billion by 2025. As the demand continues to increase and as legislation facilitates accessibility, the threat the cannabis industry poses to the pharmaceutical industry becomes greater, or so many drug manufacturers believe. After all, any new entrant in a market is inherently disruptive.

Yet, the reality is more positive. Successful trials have shown promising results, particularly in the neurology field. Marijuana’s pharmacologically active compounds, called cannabinoids, including the psychoactive THC and non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), have been actively tested in multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Tourette syndrome, and other neurological dysfunctions. Two compounds have been already FDA-approved: dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet), both synthetic forms of cannabinoids, for treating nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy. Dronabinol also is approved for loss of appetite associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS.

Clinical trials are currently ongoing and gaining traction, and pharmaceutical companies can expect further benefits from medical marijuana.

  • GW Pharmaceuticals – Epidiolex: CBD currently in development concentrating on severe, orphan, early-onset, treatment-resistant epilepsy syndromes including Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex and Infantile Spasms
  • Zynerba – CBD Patch: refractory epilepsy, osteoarthritis, PTSD, and cancer-related pain
  • Insys Therapeutics – sublingual CBD spray for a variety of pediatric epilepsies including Dravet Syndrome, infantile spasms, and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome
  • Nemus Bioscience – various CBD extracts – glaucoma and range of eye pathologies
  • Axim Biotechnologies – CBD-based chewing gums – spasticity and pain related to multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD, ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease

Additionally, GW Pharmaceuticals is revving up its engine for the launch of Epidiolex in the coming months, as data is compiled and submitted for NDA approval for Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut seizure indications. If approved, Epidiolex will be a big player in the Epilepsy market, providing a new treatment using synthetically-derived CBD to treat seizure patients. This approval will further increase awareness of the benefits of CBD and potentially emphasize the beneficial use of such products, as it’s being tested in a variety of disease types.

What Are the Financial Implications?

The financial implications of marijuana legalization are vast as medical marijuana has shown promise both clinically and economically. Some manufacturers are initiating defense strategies. For example, Insys Therapeutics realized the revenue potential of medical marijuana and its active ingredients, and as a result, gave $500,000 in efforts to limit the commercial sale of medical marijuana in Arizona. Medical marijuana is being treated as a traditional new entry and Insys and other manufacturers are intent on curbing its impact on their revenue.

Does It Address The Opioid Crisis?

Since 1999, the number of opioid overdoses have increased and providing alternatives to patients is now imperative. Medical marijuana could be a safe and effective substitute for opioids without the lasting addictive effects. Clinicians in the pain market need new replacements for opioids and the psychoactive THC and non-psychoactive cannabidiol properties of medical marijuana suffice in addressing conditions that have formerly been managed by opioids. Pharmaceutical companies are incentivized by physicians and patients alike to explore other pain management solutions, like medical marijuana.

In Closing  

The therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana for certain neurologic disorders are promising, yet require additional research. As legislation surrounding marijuana eases, rescheduling to a schedule II drug would likely increase the pace and quality of studies incorporating medical marijuana.

Clearly, the medical cannabis industry’s intersection with healthcare and science is flourishing. Many players are entering this market by targeting several disease indications, proof that the pharmaceutical industry can directly benefit from medical marijuana, assuming we see reduced legislative barriers. Those manufacturers choosing to wait will certainly face the negative impact in terms of their competitive positioning. The advantages extend to physicians and patients, who are interested in avoiding the detrimental effects of more invasive treatment plans. Finally, the benefits extend to society overall as the use of medical marijuana offers additional therapeutic opportunities to patients, including the avoidance of opioids.

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